(Isa 45:1. 46, 1Thess 1:1-5, Matt. 22:15-22)

Today, the 29th Sunday in ordinary time is the World Mission Sunday. Today, we celebrate the fact that the church is missionary by nature as Pope Francis says in his message for this year’s world mission Sunday: if the church fails in her work of mission, “she would no longer be the Church of Christ but one group that soon passes away.”

Today vast numbers of people still do not know Christ. For this reason, the mission ad gentes continue to be most urgent. How does the Church carry out its work of mission? All the members of the church are called to participate in this mission. As members of the church, we all are evangelizers and our primary duty is to spread the Good News to the whole world through the witness of our life and the proclamation of the Gospel. Today is a privileged moment when the faithful of various continents engage in prayer and concrete gestures of solidarity in support of the young churches in mission land.

In the first reading, God makes clear his choice of Israel. In a most surprising way too, He make known his choice of a foreign king (Cyrus), whom Isaiah referred to as “God anointed instrument”. His choice for this Pagan king as his anointed was for a purpose: to make his name known among the other nations. Like both Cyrus and Israel, God has chosen us. He has called us to be part of this same project. This is a call to all God’s people, to go and make his name known to the ends of the earth.

In the gospel, the Pharisees were looking for a way to discredit Jesus. This gospel reminds us of a very important reality that every missionary face. In as much as we preach the good news, detractors and difficulties abound. Hence, the Pharisees in today’s gospel represent the different obstacles a missionary must encounter in the course of his work. They come in different shapes and forms. They come like tests, various forms of temptations, doubts, persecutions, threats of life, calumny, and alienation or loneliness even in the midst of people.

The Pharisees and the Herodians were enemies; but their common foe brought them together. The Pharisees opposed the Roman poll tax for several reasons: (1) They did not want to submit to a Gentile power, (2) Caesar was revered as a god, and (3) they had better uses for the money than to give it to Rome. Since the Herodians were the party supporting Herod, they were in favor of the tax. After all, Herod’s authority was given to him by Caesar; and Herod would have had a difficult time staying in power without Rome’s support.

Palestine was an occupied nation, and the Jews had no special love for their conquerors. Every tax the poor people had to pay was another reminder that they were not free. The Zealots, an “underground” organization of fanatical Jews, often staged protests against Rome. They would oppose any Roman tax. It is easy to see why the Pharisees and Herodians chose the poll tax as the bait for their trap. It appeared that no matter which side Jesus took, He would create problems for Himself and His ministry. If He opposed the tax, He would be in trouble with Rome. If He approved the tax, He would be in trouble with the Jews.

Jesus immediately saw through their scheme. He knew that their real purpose was not to get an answer to a question, but to try to trap Him. They were only acting a part, and this made them hypocrites. On this basis alone, He could have refused to answer them. But He knew the people around Him would not understand. Here was an opportunity for Him to silence His enemies and, at the same time, teach the people an important spiritual truth.

Each ruler minted his own coins and put his own image on them. The “penny” (denarius) had Caesar’s image on it so it belonged to Caesar. “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” was His reply. “And give back to God what belongs to God.” In this simple, but profound reply, Jesus taught several important truths.

– Christians must honor and obey rulers (CCC 2238-2240). This is taught elsewhere in the New Testament (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Tit 3:1). Christians have a dual citizenship, in heaven (Phil 3:20) and on earth. We, must respect our earthly rulers (or elected leaders), obey the law, pay taxes, and pray for all who are in authority. Christians must honor and obey God as well. Caesar was not God. While governments cannot enforce religion (Acts 5:29), neither should they restrict freedom of worship. The best citizen honors his country because he worships God.

– Man bears God’s image and owes God his all. Caesar’s image was on the coin; God’s image is on man (Gen 1:26-27). Sin has marred that image, but through Jesus Christ, it can be restored (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10).

– The relationship between religion and government is personal and individual. It is right for the people of God to serve in government (remember Daniel and Joseph). But it is wrong for government to control the church, or for the church to control government.

We would misunderstand the reply of Jesus if we thought it was meant to instruct us about the relationship that should exist between church and state. His reply concerns, not the order of politics, but the order of moral responsibility – the individual’s duty to participate in the life of the nation in a way that best promotes the common good of justice and peace. At a later, when the Roman state became a demonic force intent on destroying the church, defiance of the authorities was called for and produced the martyrs who were the glory of the church.

The Catechism Catholic Church (CCC) points out three circumstances where citizens are obliged in conscience to refuse obedience to the civil authorities. They are when the laws are “contrary to the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons, or to the teachings of the gospel” (CCC2242). The principle is clear. However, its application may not be so simple when there is an apparent clash of rights.

Fr Dumlesi Tor